It’s March, and while we may be anxious for the arrival of spring, what we’ve seen instead is a whole lot of people sick with flu. Surveillance data shows that while the flu may have peaked in some areas of the country, flu activity remains elevated throughout most of the U.S. Since flu season typically extends into April and May, now is the time to remain vigilant and get vaccinated if that is still something you haven’t managed to do.
Flu surveillance reports indicate that the flu strains that make up this year’s vaccine are a good match to those circulating across the U.S. The most dominant strain has been the influenza A (H3N2) strain, and the estimated effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing illness caused by that strain has been 43%. However, we’re also seeing cases of influenza B virus, and the vaccine’s estimated effectiveness against that strain is 73%. This amounts to an overall vaccine protection of about 48%.
While some may question, “Why get a flu shot if it doesn’t guarantee you won’t get the flu?”, the answer is simple. 48% protection is much better than none.
When a vaccinated individual is exposed to flu, they are about half as likely to have to go to the doctor, be hospitalized or even die from the flu as compared to their unvaccinated counterpart.
Sure, the flu vaccine isn’t perfect. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth getting.
Consider the fact that most everyone wears a seat belt when driving in a car, and yet they’ve only been shown to reduce vehicular injury and death by about 50%. So if you wouldn’t drive your car without wearing a seatbelt, why would you want to skip a flu shot?
Another reason people often use to explain why they haven’t gotten a flu vaccine is because they’ve never had the flu and they don’t consider it to be dangerous.
The 60/40 factor tells us otherwise.
40: This is the number of children who’ve died from the flu so far this season.
While no parent every imagines that their child will die from a preventable disease, we know that 40 children across the nation have died from flu so far this season. And sadly, the season is not over yet. (Update: as of March 13th the number of pediatric deaths has risen to 48). Most years the average is closer to 100 pediatric flu deaths and as high as 49,000 flu-related deaths among adults.
Since pediatric flu deaths must be reported, as opposed to adult flu deaths, we tend to see news reports throughout the flu season, such as these:
- A 7-year-old and a 17-year-old who died in Florida back in January.
- Four children who died from flu in New York City in January.
- Five children from Ohio to include 6-year-old Eva Harris, 7-year-old Ava Coronado, 9-year-old Korbyn Mathias who was vaccinated, but also asthmatic, as well as a 6-year-old boy from Salem and a 7-year-old boy from Columbiana County.
- 17-year-old Kayla Linton, a healthy but unvaccinated high school athlete from Maryland, who died in January
- And just this week, another child from Milwaukee.
While we may never know the specifics of each case, what we do know is that the flu is completely unpredictable. From season to season, we don’t always know exactly which strain will be most prevalent, which will be most dangerous, and who will suffer, be hospitalized or even die as a result of the flu.
The 60/40 factor in regards to pediatric flu deaths: In a previous season, 60% of pediatric deaths occurred among children who were in a high risk category, while 40% had no chronic health problems.
The flu is predictably unpredictable. Each year we know it’s coming and yet people – sometimes even children – will fall ill and die. We just can’t predict when it will arrive, how severe it will be or how many will die as a result. Yesterday’s news, included reports of four influenza cases in Michigan and the first flu related fatality in LA County, remind us that the 2013-2014 influenza season is upon us. As prepared as I am, this USA Today headline seemed to sum up my constant concern as a mother: Even Healthy Kids Can Die From Flu Complications
The article highlighted details of a new report published in Pediatrics entitled Influenza-Associated Pediatric Deaths in the United States, 2004-2012.
Some of the most notable statistics from the report include the following:
The flu is fatal to children: 830 kids died from flu-related complications between October 2004 and September 2012. Their median age was 7.
Healthy kids die from flu: 43% of the children who died from flu associated deaths were otherwise healthy and didn’t have high-risk medical conditions. Children without medical conditions were more likely to die before hospital admission and 35% of pediatric deaths during this period occurred either at home or on their way to the hospital.
Vaccination is your best preventive measure: Most flu associated deaths occurred among children who were NOT vaccinated.
Some people are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu: Older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease), as well as those who live in facilities such as nursing homes, should be especially vigilant against the flu since they are at greater risk of complications. However, it is interesting to note that the risk of influenza associated hospitalization in young children is similar to the risk known for older adults. Something that many parents fail to realize.
In light of this report and other flu related data from last season, I’m relieved that my children have already been vaccinated. When I schedule their appointments each year I’m reminded of the following:
We know and love plenty of people whose health is fragile, such as newborn babies, pregnant women and those undergoing cancer treatment. Last year my daughter’s 13-year-old friend, and trick-or-treat companion, was undergoing cancer treatment. This year my father in law is battling cancer. And we’ll be seeing several family members who are either pregnant or have young children over the upcoming holidays. Then there’s my 90-year-old aunt. She may not have any underlying health conditions, but a bout of the flu could certainly land her in the hospital. By getting ourselves vaccinated we are also helping to protect other vulnerable members of our communities from falling ill with the flu.
We’ve also witnessed the severity and unpredictability of the flu over the years. My husband’s co-worker, a healthy young man in his early 30’s, succumbed to the flu years ago. My own daughter was a victim of H1N1 during that pandemic year. My best friend’s son was hospitalized two times with influenza. And how could I forget the personal stories from Families Fighting Flu and Shot by Shot of children lost to influenza. As parents, we vaccinate our children to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to protect them from a dangerous illness that could possibly result in death.
And if you’re already preparing to explain why you won’t get yourself or your family vaccinated, than I have just one request. Check out Tara Haelle’s grand effort to “set the record straight” with her thorough take down of almost every flu vaccine myth ever heard. As a science writer, Tara’s colossal post lists 25 flu vaccine myths and then literally attacks each of them in detail. With a grand total of 109 links, more than half of which link directly to peer-reviewed studies in medical research, your bound to find the scientific response to anything you’ve ever wanted to know about influenza vaccine.
To find out more about why flu vaccination matters, listen to a few personal stories compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
You would think that by this time of year the influenza season in the United States would be far from over. Sadly, last week’s flu activity proves otherwise.
Although the amount of flu in the U.S. has been decreasing, there was still an additional pediatric death reported last week, bringing the total number of pediatric deaths from influenza this season up to 139. Out of the 2,416 specimens that were tested and reported just last week, 124 (5.1%) were positive for influenza. In reviewing the cumulative data from this current season, it’s also noted that the rate of laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations this season has occurred among 44 per 100,000 people.
When you factor in the likelihood of additional unconfirmed cases, you can see that – despite what many people may think – the flu can be dangerous. And the dangers don’t just lie with those who have underlying medical conditions. This year, 46% of the children hospitalized with the flu had no identified underlying medical conditions.
Can you imagine how devastating it must be for families to lose their perfectly healthy children to influenza?
One family, whose lives where forever changed when they lost their four-year old daughter Amanda, is currently spearheading a Challenge Campaign to help provide funds to Families Fighting Flu and create a new public awareness campaign called Stay in the Game. This campaign is an ambitious effort to educate others by means of print, broadcast and social media which will focus on the seriousness of influenza and the importance of annual vaccination, particularly among pregnant women, new moms, families, educators and health care providers.
In order to fulfill the expectations for this campaign, they must secure an additional $30,000 in funds by July 1st. So, for every donation made to Families Fighting Flu between now and July 1st, Amanda’s parents Alissa and Richard Kanowitz, have generously offered to match funds, dollar-for-dollar, up to $15,000 in order to secure the $30,000 they need. If you would like to contribute a tax-deductible donation for their Stay in the Game campaign, as I have done, simply visit their website here.
Unfortunately, while the Kanowitz family and many other Families Fighting Flu members continue their monumental efforts to increase influenza vaccinations, states like Wisconsin are trying to make it easier for healthcare workers to forego flu vaccines. Despite the research that suggests influenza vaccination among health care workers is a critical way to reduce the transmission of the flu, as well as flu related illness and death, Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt of Wisconsin is currently sponsoring a bill that would restrict employers from requiring workers to get flu shots. Read more…